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At performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, UB professors to discuss composer’s struggle with, and triumph over, devastating hearing loss

Ludwig van Beethoven composed many of his most famous pieces, including the Fifth Symphony, during the second half of his musical career when his hearing loss had become severe. Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler.

Recordings will demonstrate how Beethoven might have heard music as his hearing deteriorated

Release Date: January 19, 2017

Beethoven composed many of his most famous pieces, including the Fifth Symphony, during the second half of his musical career, when his hearing loss had become severe.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — They’re the most famous musical notes in the world: the da-da-da-dum opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Those notes — and all the magnificent notes that follow them – will be part of a special collaborative performance between the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at 8 p.m. on Jan. 26 in Kleinhans Music Hall.

The idea for the collaboration emerged when the BPO decided to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as a “Know the Score” event, in which the orchestra focuses on a single piece of music and partners with local organizations to provide audiences not only with an outstanding performance, but a deeper understanding of the context in which the music was composed.

Interested in how Beethoven’s hearing loss affected him physiologically and psychologically, the BPO contacted Linda Pessar, MD, director of the Center for Medical Humanities at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who immediately agreed to participate.

At the event, Pessar, also professor emerita of psychiatry at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will discuss the stages Beethoven went through when he realized he was losing his hearing at the age of 26.

“My focus will be on Beethoven's remarkable resiliency that led him to turn away from suicide, despite the social isolation and threat to his musical creativity that deafness represented,” said Pessar. “In turning away from suicide, Beethoven went on to revolutionize classical music.”

She will discuss the factors that promoted Beethoven’s resilience, including social supports and values that grew out of the 18th century German Enlightenment.

“While he thought seriously about suicide, what held him back was that he felt he still had so much music in him,” said Pessar.

Beethoven composed many of his most famous pieces, including the Fifth Symphony, during the second half of his musical career, when his hearing loss had become severe.

Jeff Higginbotham, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, will discuss social circumstances, medical treatments and available technologies for deaf people during the 19th Century. He also will demonstrate some of the devices and treatments that were available at the time. Higginbotham is an expert in communication technologies and how they can be improved.

"Beethoven’s perseverance through adversity is something everyone identifies with,” said Stefan Sanders, who will conduct the concert. “This program will deepen our connection to Beethoven and the ‘Fifth’ with fascinating presentations from two UB professors, focusing their discussion on the physiology and psychology of Beethoven’s hearing loss. We are grateful for our partners in Buffalo’s medical community for their commitment to this program and a shared passion for the interconnectedness of art and science."

 

 

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
News Content Manager
Medicine
Tel: 716-645-4605
goldbaum@buffalo.edu
Twitter: @UBmednews